Women & gender
Egypt: The problem of female circumcision
Land Center for Human Rights
2010-07-08, Issue 489
Despite the important achievements so far in the field of women rights and the continuous efforts from both the state and the civil society to protect and promote these rights. Yet some traditional practices that seriously violate women rights still persist. Among those practices, is female circumcision, which is still unfortunately widely spread in Egypt. The government started recently combating this phenomena under increasing international pressure, where it is considered as a serious violation of women rights.
Despite the important achievements so far in the field of women rights and the continuous efforts from both the state and the civil society to protect and promote these rights. Yet some traditional practices that seriously violate women rights still persist. Among those practices, is female circumcision, which is still unfortunately widely spread in Egypt. The government started recently combating this phenomena under increasing international pressure, where it is considered as a serious violation of women rights. Talking about Female circumcision within the Egyptian society is - by no means - an easy task, where it is considered as a taboo for several reasons. This tradition is said to have started in ancient Egypt and in some parts of Africa and is still widely practiced in some of the poorest African countries, where illiteracy is prevails. Scientifically speaking, Female Circumcision is referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (cutting of female external genitalia partially or fully).
Why is it widespread?
There are several reasons explaining the widespread of the this phenomenon in Egypt, the main reasons are the following:
Customs and traditions, which can sometimes be stronger than legislation. The traditional way of perceiving females where they are considered as an economic and a social burden since birth. The desire for male newborns and the fear of having a feminine offspring is widely spread in the Egyptian society, even among educated classes. Having little girls in the family is perceived as a potential threat that must be dealt with severely in order for the family to protect itself.
Female Circumcision is widely spread among both Muslim and Christian communities, and in all social classes. According to 1995 statistical data, circumcised women represented 95%, and some recent estimation mentioned that 80% of young females have been circumcised (the percentage is higher in rural areas).
In 1996 and despite the decision of the Health Minister to ban this operation in public hospitals. This year, 14 circumcision cases were published in Egyptian newspapers. In five of the cases, victims died following the operation and the rest varied from, acute bleeding, depression, nervous breakdown and permanent handicap. The youngest of the victims was 9 years old and the eldest was 15. A study on violence against women mentioned that Female Circumcision in Egypt is around 98% in the countryside, 30% in Cairo among higher classes and 98% among the poorest. It is practiced in both Muslim and Christian communities, it is inversely proportional to the education level and is done from 6 to 12 years old.
Who practice Female Circumcision? And at what age is it done?
According to several studies, midwifes in the Delta and barbers in Upper Egypt operate the young girls mostly (some go to clinics), which is the surgical operation number one in Egypt. It is done between 6 and 10 years old, but can also be postponed to any age. It is usually done in summer, at the beginning of Ramadan and during feasts.
Damages resulting from Female circumcision:
Female Circumcision results in many physical and psychological damages, in addition to a large number of social problems. It is usually done under no or little anesthesia, and using primitive tools such as razors or even an ordinary knife. Hence, it is extremely painful and in many cases the young girl losses consciousness during the operation and some die during or after either due to shock, hemorrhage or both.
Existing legal protection:
In 1959, a commission was formed based on a ministerial decree to study Female Circumcision and provide recommendations. Accordingly, operations done by unqualified individuals ( none doctors) were banned. In addition, the cutting was partial for those who desired(upon parents or tutors request). It was also banned to do it in public hospitals, clinics and health care units. But, there was no law that clearly banned Female Circumcision or punished none doctors for doing it. The commission criminalized Female Circumcision according to a number of articles of the existing criminal law based on the following:
Female Circumcision falls under articles concerning the following crimes:
1 Physical hurt or intentional injury.
2 Indecent assault
3 Practicing medicine without license.
1- Physical hurt or intentional injury:
According to articles 236, 240, 241 and 242 of the Egyptian Criminal Law, beating, hurting or administrating damaging substances with no intention of killing is punished by the law. The sentence is decided according to the damage done.
2- Indecent assault:
Article 269 of the Egyptian Criminal Law, states that boys and girls under 18 years old are protected by the law against indecent assault even in case of the victim's consent. Parents or tutors can legally be held responsible for circumcising a young girl based on the 1st and 2nd points as partners in a physical damage and an indecent assault crimes.
Legal opinion regarding circumcision operations done by doctors:
Female Circumcision is considered as intentional physical damage crime under articles 241 and 242 (the law mentions intentional physical hurt or damage but not namely Female Circumcision), with up to three years of prison. Parents or tutors are also held responsible since they help the doctors in his crime. If the operation is done by a none doctor, two crimes are committed (intentional hurt and practicing medicine without license).
A recent law was voted by the People's Assembly, Child Law number 126 for the year 2008. This law was intended to protect children against a number of important violations, and among those violations Female Circumcision. The punishment is very weak facing such anchored tradition (three months prison and 2 to 5 thousand EGP fine). In addition, the law was not clear on family violence, and on physical punishments.
The United nations position on Female Circumcision:
The UN condemns all forms of Female Circumcision and FGM being contrary to the rights to physical and psychological health and a form of gender discrimination and violence against women.
In addition to laws, Female Circumcision is also a flagrant violation according to moral values.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
The UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 24:States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
The International Code for Medical Ethics:
The two most important parts of this code for the study of the ethics of child circumcision may be 1) the statement "Any act, or advice which could weaken physical or mental resistance of a human being may be used only in his interest", 2) the requirement to be "loyal" to his patient, 3) the requirement to "observe the principles of The Declaration of Geneva", because that document requires that a doctor must not use "medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity", and 4) the requirement that a doctor must "practice his profession uninfluenced by motives of profit."]
• Coordination between state institutions and civil society in order to stop violence and violent practices against young girls and women.
• Amending the actual legislation and the existing laws and decrees so that they better protect young girls against Female Circumcision and FGM.
• The family has an important role in raising up children to respect values of gender equality and of the individual privacy.
• Civil society has to do greater efforts in fighting against anchored traditions that violate women rights.
• The law number 26 for the year 2008 must be amended to criminalize family violence against children.
The LCHR provides free legal aide and receives complaints related to farmers' laborers' women and children rights on the following address:
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